December 22, 2011

The Best of NYC

Category: Canada,New York City,Personal — Biella @ 3:37 pm


Now that the semester is done and now that I have compiled my crazy paperwork for Canada (wow, it is a lot), I will be heading in six days to the wonderful city of Montreal to settle down, at least for a few years.

I am ready to leave but it is not an easy move, as I like NYC and my job. I came to New York City for the first time at the age of 19 after spending a year on a ship and I rather did not like the city for those 5 years, although loved my college years and all the time I spent chasing a Frisbee while running on grassy fields all over the east coast. When I left in 1998, I said, ‘never again.” But the future is impossible to predict so of course I came back when I got a job, my only job, at NYU MCC and headed quite happily here (incidentally from Canada).

And NYC was much much much better the second time around, most likely as I had a salary, and here is what I <3 and loved about the city.

1. Not having a car (which will still be the case in Montreal)
2. The bike path on the Hudson, especially the gardens and the Irish famine memoriall
3. The farmer’s markets (won’t miss the prices though)
4. High walkability factor (and though I did not love my hood, I loved being 1.5 blocks from my office)
5. The music jam circles in Washington Square Park (I was always left wondering if they were spontaneously generated or long standing groups // prolly both) and the occasional but mighty impressive hawks in the park.
6. Coney Island especially under certain special conditions when you can rly enjoy the lights radiating out of the amusement park
7. Leaving the city for some nature time
8. 24 hour trains (despite not loving them cuz the noise robbed some life from me every time I took them)
9. Grand Central Station’s ceiling
10. The gluten free options (this is going to be the hardest to give up as Montreal sort of sucks in comparison)
11. Being able to take your small dog on the train ;-) which is only a recent pleasure
12. My department
13. East Asian Starr library at Columbia University (still my favorite library in the world) and totally loathed NYU’s Bobst, ugly on the outside, ugly on the inside
14. NYC sunrises which I have like only seen 3 times (sadly) but they have been stunning every time
15. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge
16. HOPE
17. The Highline
18. The Strand
19. My favorite thing = Massive Snow Storms in the City (good thing I am moving to Canada, eh?)

December 1, 2009

The Politics of Piracy and Spicing the Political Life

Category: Academic,Canada,Digital Media,IP Law,Piracy,Pirates,Politics — Biella @ 7:36 pm

Reality needs fantasy to render it desirable, just as fantasy needs reality to make it believable. Stephen Duncombe

This fall I have been awash in a few obsessions including book piracy and spam. I recently got to talk about one of these obsessions when I was interviewed about book piracy by Nora Young for her weekly CBC radio and podcast show Spark. I mostly gave a lay of the land panorama with a nod toward some of the conditions, technological and social, that can help us grasp the contemporary explosion of book piracy and also raised some thoughts about what might change the future landscape.

What I don’t raise is whether a politics built around an explicit embrace of “piracy” is regressive, progressive, or something else but these ethical questions were posed in the comments left for the full interview. Some of the comments pointed to the pitfalls and shortcoming that can follow the terminology of piracy many of which I share.

But what keeps me interested in the politics of piracy is how it can speak the language of spectacle, which can be a powerful tactic and technique for broadcasting a political message. Here I just paraphrasing and cribbing the work of Stephen Duncombe, who has argued, I think quite persuasively, that we cannot rely solely on reasoned debate for building political programs. Duncombe does not argue that we must toss out rationality and truth seeking (these are absolutely necessary) but notes how on their own or if not clothed in some other cloak, they may not be enough to convey and compel, especially in this day of total media saturation. Or to put a but more poetically by him “Reality needs fantasy to render it desirable, just as fantasy needs reality to make it believable.”

Much (though not all) of contemporary digital piracy follows the logic of spectacle. It builds and conveys a fantastical drama of right and wrong, of new possibilities, of freedom from the noose of the law; it signals and speaks to the thrill and fun in twisting, even breaking, existing structures and constraints; and provides a window into another way of acting/behaving. In many cases what it provides is a commons (and I will be exploring it in depth in my class next semester on the commons) and many folks, I imagine, turn to piracy simply for the free stuff, and a number of them come out of the other side transformed into copy fighters willing to engage in a politics beyond sharing stuff and waving the pirate flag.

For those of us who believe in greater access and different ways of imagining structures and strategies of re-compensation, piracy on its own is not certainly enough and I understand fully and even to some degree, share the skepticism many feel toward such language. But I am not quite ready to declare a politics of piracy as always politically bankrupt or necessarily backward. I guess what I embrace is a diverse political ecology. For some, the drama of spectacle and thrill of transgression are what turns their political mojo on; for others it is the cool and reasoned debate common to policy and reform; for others, they want to focus on building alternatives as we see with Free Software or radical tech collectives. For some, it is both the reasoned salt and the transgressive pepper that spices their political world. And I would rather have more spice than less, especially in an era where the blandness of political apathy is that which is our most dangerous enemy.

Related Links:

Here is a wonderful animation by the NZ Book Council that captures what I love about books and renders its materiality wonderfully alive. On the Media has a episode on book publishing and Cory Doctorow has penned some thoughts about the future of book selling. If you want to keep abreast on the politics of liberating books, check out Free our Books. If you are more interested in the technical side of things, check out the book liberator project.

August 11, 2008

Oh Montreal

Category: Canada,Debian,Tech — Biella @ 1:29 pm

Rumor has it that NYC may be proposed for Debconf 10. While that would mean I would most likely go, since I do live there, now that I visiting Montreal, I can’t think of a better place for Debconf…. Wonder if anyone else, especially from there, shares my sentiments :-)

August 5, 2008

Nice Website

Category: Academic,Aesthetics,Canada,IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 5:37 am

For the most part, university websites are not the most flattering in the world, nor are academic conference websites. But this one Copyright’s Counterparts is quite nice (and the theme also interesting). Makes me wonder, actually, about how copyrightable the design of a website is. Does anyone know? update: Not sure why my links don’t work on planet :-( I will have to figure that out after I get back from Canada.Update again: OUCH, ok there are issues with the website thanks to le flash raised in the comments. But I still think it looks good and I am sure that aesthetic could be transfered using non-flash technology!

June 12, 2008

Free Speech: A Comparative Perspective

Category: Canada,Free Speech,Politics — Biella @ 4:00 pm

While free speech rights are valued and recognized in most liberal democracies, the degree and scope of these rights are by no means uniform. The United States, which has the most expansive free speech protections in the world, actually stands apart as this New York Times article on the subject makes clear.

The article covers familiar ground (at least for those who follow free speech debates) but it does so well and discusses an interesting case now unfolding in Canada, concerning a pretty inflammatory magazine article denouncing Islam. The magazine is currently under trial for violating provincial hate laws.

December 7, 2007

DMCA in Canada

Category: Canada,IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 4:59 am

Canada in many ways looks and feels like the United States (and vice versa) but upon closer inspection, there are some pretty large and important differences and I think the more Canada walks away from the US path, the better. So when I heard that Canada is considering a DMCA like bill, I was of course disappointed. If you are Canadian, do your political stuff to stop it (write your MP, etc. etc. etc.) and help keep Canada unique!

May 30, 2007

The Canadian Rockies

Category: Canada,Tech — Biella @ 8:08 am

I am at the nice Wild Flour Bakery in the very stunning Canadian Rockies taking advantage of some time and wireless to get started with a small project whose deadline is fast coming up.

So you know all those pictures of Banff/Canmore area lakes donning aquamarine, coral like colors? Well, there is no lying going on. The lakes here are so frikken beautiful and as someone who has spent a lot of time underwater staring at corals and Caribbean Fishies, I think there is something quite nice about how the water in Caribbean and the water in the Rockies look the same. While the lakes in the Rockies are the color they are due to their mineral content, some of the lakes, like the one we hiked to yesterday, are on top of ancient petrified coral reefs. Mountains were once oceans, oceans become mountains… which if you give it some thought, is sort of mind blowing.

So, Banff is quite beautiful but in terms of mountain towns, I prefer nearby Canmore or Jasper (which is closer to Edmonton) mostly because they are not quite as ritzy and chock full of tourists (but of course there is a reason for all these tourists).

But whatever town you can make it to, I would highly recommend the Canadian Rockies. They are in a class of their own.

April 1, 2007

The Joy of Weather, Writing, Music, and Software

Category: Academic,Canada,Edmonton,F/OSS,Tech — Biella @ 2:57 pm

Spring has arrived in many parts of North America. But in Edmonton, North America’s largest and most northernly city, spring has sort-of-come-but-not-really as it recedes fairly quickly. There will be a day of “explosive” warmth (you know, a balmy 45-55 F) and of course locals strip down to near nakedness, wearing shorts and, the more flamboyant will don an 80′s inspired cut-off tee. Hot. This sartorial statement says WE are SO ready for the long winter to leave … for good. Despite the collective sentiment, which is probably shared by 99.999999% of Edmonton’s inhabitants, the winter cold, snow, and breeze are indifferent to our deepest pleas and they come right back, making us sport at least a few layers of winter clothes.

Within this dance between winter breeze and spring warmth, I have spent most of my time staring at my computer doing everything possible to transform half-baked ideas, hunches, sentiments, and theories into coherent words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters for my book. I am working on it full-force and am enjoying it more than I have in a year though from time to time I get fed-up, lost, sick of it, and my writing soul descends back, deep into one of Dante’s infernal rings, where I fester with my frustration, convinced that I should have become an organic flower farmer/acupuncturist that I almost became (well not really, but I have always fancied that combination as an ideal and fulfilling career path). Slowly I usually make my way back up, brush off the cobwebs of despair, and proceed anew.

Within this highly secluded life of monastic-like repetition, thankfully, I have been enjoying some new things this spring. Once a week I head over to an University of Alberta off-site library facility to pour over archive material for a new project, which I am not going to talk about here (it is super-duper-top-secret) but it has been interesting working at an archive, especially one that is housed in an old Ikea.

Since I am one of those right-brained people, I like to listen to music while I work, and lately I have also become pretty obsessed with house & electronic music, mainly thanks to a local DJ, David Stone whose weekly radio show on CJSR, BPM, is simply the bomb. He claims to bring the “latest and greatest of electronic dance music from around the world” and I think he is totally right. If you like this type of music, do catch his weekly show on Sat nights at 6 PM (MST).

I sometimes get a little sad when I listen to some good music or see some stellar performance because it reminds me that what I may one day have to offer to the wider world—an academic book and article here and there—simply cannot bring the type of joy that musical performance and other creative expressions can bring. While you can listen to songs and over again, a book, if it is really superb, may attract a second or third reading. An academic book or article may at times light an inner light of joy, but let’s face it, it is usually a pretty cerebral light oh’ joy, leaving untouched those part of the brain, soul, heart, where more visceral, mysterious, yet fully self-enveloping feelings of joy reign high (but I am trying my hardest to stick a funny section or two in every chapter to leave a trace of laughter because if I can’t manage that with an ethnography on hackers, I will have failed miserably).

Every track David Stone plays is something I want to listen to over and over again and thanks to mplayer stream dump function, I can. And funny enough, is that in the last month software—believe it or not—has brought me much joy as of late. I have been using free software since 1997 and I used to get A LOT more annoyed—no make that a downright frustrated—with programs (or lack of programs) than I do now. In fact, now, I am simply stunned whenever I upgrade to a version of a program. For example, Word Press 2.0 is like so much nicer in terms of usability and functionality than 1.5. The same goes for Open Office, the Gimp, and even Firefox, which has some bugs, but is so much better than its predecessors.

I once described free software using the well-worn cliché as “the gift that keeps on giving.” And I think that this is becoming more and more true. And like wine, with the passing of time, these gifts usually get better and better. And like a unexpected present that arrives on your doorstep, these software packages induce some joy, because it is actually pretty neat to see these programs develop and grow into something stronger and more useful; so thanks to those who spend their time hacking away at making and improving this software and thanks to those (you know who you are) who helped with my recent WP upgrade!

March 29, 2007

Soweto Gospel Choir

Category: Canada,Wholesome — Biella @ 6:48 am

Two nights ago I saw the Soweto Gospel Choir and they were pretty much on fire. You get the suspicion that they spend a lot of their time singing, dancing, performing, and practicing and well, a quick gloss of their performance schedule confirms this suspicion. They are on the road non-stop going from Edmonton, CA to Tyler, Texas. If they pass through your town, do check them out.

March 2, 2007

On Edmonton, Place, and State of Mind

Category: Academic,Canada,Edmonton,Tech,Travel — Biella @ 8:10 am

Recently, I got a comment on an older blog post on Edmonton that basically agreed with another comment that Edmonton was so not the cat’s meow. Despite the winter and many months later, I guess I still do think it is, although in saying so, it is not I think their assessments are wrong, I think my take has as much to do as what has come before (like NJ, which was not the high point o my life), my experiences here, and what is to come in the future.

I tend to like Edmonton because there is enough stuff to do but not too much to do. It is that whole freedom from choice that I like because I often shut down in the face of too much choice. What also colors my experience in a positive light is that generally, Canadian politics, social policy, and way of life, are a step up or two (or maybe three) than that of the United States. So the worst of Canada (if you are even to call Edmonton that, which I would not), in this regard, beats out the best of the United States. And I have lived most of my life in the US so that is my point of comparison. Even if you are living in a fantastic American city, you always face the possibility of struggling in ways that will *never* happen in Canada. It makes for a calmer, less aggressive society. For example, I recently learned that Edmonton has the highest murder rate in Canada, at a whopping …. 36 people per year (population of Edmonton = 1 million). I grew up in a place, Puerto Rico where the yearly murder rate hovers at about 700-800 per year (population = 4 million). And yet people here are freaking out over the high rate of murder, which is a good thing because hopefully they can bring it down but this fact should make the US pause and think about what they are doing up north to keep the murder rate so darn low (and the answer I think is pretty easy to find).

But perhaps a lot of my love of the place has as much to do or more with my state of mind. After a grueling year of finishing a dissertation under pressure as I had deadline, and then living in NJ where I was on the job market (which meant spending so much time churning out application after application and then flying around interviews), in addition to flying 7 times in one year to visit my mom, my life here just feels so much more sane than it has been in years. What sealed it all was that right before I moved here in August I was lucky enough to be offered a permanent job (which means this summer I will be moving to NYC to join this department and I will be back to the land of overwhelming choice), so that for the first time in 5 years I did not have to apply for anything in the fall that would guarantee my livelihood for the next academic year. I was not faced with a year of lots of travel (and actually traveling in out out Edmonton is really one of my least favorite things). With that firmly in place, I could just concentrate on things like my work, my friends, brewing kombucha and do things routinely, like exercise, which I had not consistently done for years.

There are things about Edmonton that I find totally obnoxious like the cities inability to plow roads leaving a thick glaze of black ice on the roads so that when you drive in the city, you basically are at real risk for an accident (and this is despite a 6.6 BILLION government surplus). There are a tad too many strip malls in the outlaying areas, and of course there is the infamous winter. We are still deep in it. The cold temperatures have been with us steadily for months now and according to folks, there are still two more months to “look forward to.” The cold and the constant layering of clothes are getting to me a little, although I do appreciate that the cold is just not as cold as one would think with the actual temperatures. The lack of wind, the dry conditions, the cute as chubby-as-anything- bunnies that run through the snow, and the overpowering sun all help to make -6 F much more mild, so it is not as bad as you would or I would think it was.

So while I am thrilled to join the department where I am moving too, I will be sad when I leave, though perhaps not as sad as Edmontons “darling” hockey player, Ryan Smith, who was just traded by the Oilers to the NY Islanders. The day he left, he literally was shedding tears at the airport. And I have to say, even though I have no attachment to hockey, I found the pictures endearing because there is nothing like seeing a grown Canadian man cry over hockey! : )